Breaking Barriers: Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a Federal Holiday

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when was indigenous peoples day made a federal holiday

When Was Indigenous Peoples Day Made a Federal Holiday?

Indigenous Peoples Day is a significant celebration that honors the rich history, cultures, and contributions of indigenous peoples across the United States. This holiday, observed on the second Monday of October each year, recognizes the resilience and strength of Native American, Alaska Native, and Indigenous communities. But when exactly was Indigenous Peoples Day established as a federal holiday? Let’s delve into the history and significance of this important day.

The Origins of Indigenous Peoples Day


The movement to establish Indigenous Peoples Day began in the 1970s as a way to counteract the celebration of Columbus Day. Many Native American activists and organizations believed that the traditional observance of Columbus Day perpetuated a false narrative about the discovery of America and ignored the brutal colonization and violence experienced by indigenous peoples.

In 1977, the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, held in Geneva, Switzerland, first proposed the idea of replacing Columbus Day with a day that recognized and celebrated the contributions and cultures of indigenous peoples. This initial suggestion laid the groundwork for the eventual establishment of Indigenous Peoples Day.

Local Recognition and State Proclamations

Following the initial proposal, several cities and states across the United States began to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day on a local level. For example, in 1990, the city of Berkeley, California, declared October 12th as a Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People. This local recognition aimed to raise awareness about the historical injustices faced by indigenous communities and promote a more accurate understanding of American history.

Over time, more states and cities joined the movement. South Dakota became the first state to officially rename Columbus Day as Native American Day in 1990. Other states, including Hawaii, Vermont, and Oregon, followed suit in honoring indigenous peoples on this day. As the movement gained momentum, the call for federal recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day grew louder.

Federal Recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day


On October 8, 2018, the United States took a significant step forward in acknowledging the importance of Indigenous Peoples Day. President Donald Trump signed into law the Native American Heritage Day Act of 2018, which officially recognized the second Monday of October as Native American Day. This federal legislation represented a significant milestone in the journey toward recognizing indigenous peoples at the national level.

Although the federal legislation does not explicitly mention Indigenous Peoples Day, it provides an opportunity for states and communities to honor and celebrate the diverse cultures and histories of Native American, Alaska Native, and Indigenous communities. The law encourages educational institutions to teach students about the contributions and heritage of indigenous peoples and raises awareness about the ongoing challenges they face.


The establishment of Indigenous Peoples Day as a federal holiday represents a significant step toward recognizing and honoring the rich history and contributions of indigenous peoples. The movement, which originated in the 1970s, gained traction through local and state recognition before ultimately leading to federal acknowledgment in 2018. This day serves as a reminder of the importance of acknowledging the diverse cultures and histories of indigenous communities and the ongoing struggles they face.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Why was Indigenous Peoples Day created?

Indigenous Peoples Day was created to counteract the celebration of Columbus Day, which many believe perpetuates a false narrative about the discovery of America and ignores the violence and colonization experienced by indigenous peoples.

2. What is the significance of Indigenous Peoples Day?

Indigenous Peoples Day holds significant cultural and historical importance as it recognizes the contributions, resilience, and rich heritage of Native American, Alaska Native, and Indigenous communities across the United States.

3. How do states and cities celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day?

States and cities celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day through various events, including cultural performances, educational programs, art exhibitions, and community gatherings that promote awareness and appreciation of indigenous cultures and histories.

4. How can I get involved in celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day?

You can get involved in celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day by attending local events, supporting indigenous-owned businesses, educating yourself and others about Native American history and issues, and advocating for indigenous rights and recognition.

5. Are all states in the US observing Indigenous Peoples Day?

While the movement to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day has gained significant momentum, not all states have officially adopted this holiday. However, many states and cities are actively considering and working towards its official recognition.

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